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Friday 15 December 2017

Celtic in Fenlon's sights

Hibs boss may have been big Bhoys fan but he's relishing collision with Lennon

THERE WAS a time when, for Pat Fenlon, a Celtic game meant meeting up in the early hours of the morning in Dublin city centre, boarding a supporters' bus and then a ferry over to Scotland and the same journey home again later that night.

Right now, Fenlon is no longer just another Dublin accent with a Celtic season ticket and a wish to see the team in action as much as the wallet would allow. This weekend, he'll take up a prime position on the sideline on a football pitch in Edinburgh as Celtic come to play Hibernian FC.

"It's not right to say that I was a season-ticket holder there, I still have it," Fenlon told the Herald this week as he prepares for Celtic's visit to his club on Sunday.

"Celtic were the club I grew up supporting. There's no shame in admitting that, but that won't make a bit of difference on Sunday. If we happen to beat Celtic, I know I'll be getting a great deal of flak off a few mates of mine. I'd enjoy that banter and that stick more than anything else.

"I know exactly what it's like to go to a game like this. Going back a few years I would have been one of those lads, getting the early morning bus up the North and then the ferry over to Scotland and then on the bus again to get to a Celtic game. I probably had about 20-odd years making those trips and had a lot of good days."

Changed times, though. As he gets on with the job of rebuilding a Hibs side which was in chaos when the former Bohemians boss took over in November, Fenlon gets time to reflect on the journey he's taken, the sacrifices he's made and the pain that others suffer.

Glamour

Because of the timing of his move -- mid-season in the Scottish league -- Fenlon has been unable to move his family over to Edinburgh, instead making do with visits here and there.

He was back in Dublin at the start of this week to spend time with his family (he also took the time to check out his old side, Bohs, play Portadown on Monday night) and his wife Carol used the mid-term break to take the kids over to see their dad in Scotland over the last few days, but for now they are based in Dublin while he gets on with his job of keeping Hibs in the SPL. And for all the glory and glamour of managing a team against clubs like Celtic, it is still a job with downsides.

"It's not easy, having the family in Ireland when I am here but it wasn't right to take the kids out of school mid-way through the year," he says.

"It's hard but I'm not the only one doing this and to me, it's a sign of the times. This is a job for me and there aren't too many jobs in Ireland now.

"This is what I have had to do, but so have a lot of other Irish people, to go abroad to find work and leave their families in Ireland. I see it all the time. I talk to people on planes who are working abroad and only get home to see their families every few months or the weekend.

"That's just where Ireland is now, people have to make sacrifices and I am lucky to have a fabulous job that is well-paid."

Having been appointed as Colin Calderwood's successor in November, things weren't easy for Fenlon as Hibs lost five games under the Dubliner. The chance to clear out players -- "some of them just weren't good enough," he says -- and bring in fresh talent helped things improve.

"Things have settled down a bit now, compared to what was here when I took over two months ago," he says.

Change

"Some players just had to go. Hibs have been in the bottom two for a long while so something had to change.

"We have brought in six or seven new players and that has helped put a different slant on things. Now it's more my team than it was a few weeks ago."

But that team now has to face a Celtic side which is not only doing well on the pitch but has been inadvertently boosted by the drama at Rangers this week, yet Fenlon is looking forward to the challenge.

"When you look at the SPL, Celtic and Rangers are the games that you want to be involved with," he says.

"It's a big game for Celtic, given all that's gone on over here in the last few days in terms of Rangers and the title race, but it's a massive game for us as well. It's a good opportunity for our players to show what they're about. We have kept two clean sheets in a row now. That's the first time in 12 months that Hibs have done that.

"It's a bit early to say we're on a run, but we are drawing a good bit of confidence from the last couple of games.

"It's a big game for our club because we need the points, so it's not all about me. But on a personal level, it is a good chance to test myself against someone like Neil Lennon.

"When you step up a level, you always want to test yourself against good managers.

"Neil is a great manager and Celtic have, by far, the best squad in the league, so it's a test for me and a test for us as a group and as a club."

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